Key commercial trends in football through the lens of the Champions League final

As the sun sets on another exciting year for European football, opportunities and challenges await the continent’s top teams. From the perspective of the Champions League final, the following summarizes some of the key questions that have emerged during this football season, how to find future sponsors, how to use the digital footprint for wider reach and deeper connections with global audiences, until towards women The game continues to evolve as the sports industry recovers from the global pandemic.

The evolving sponsorship landscape

At the start of the 2021/22 football season, the finance and insurance industry led the value of shirt sponsorship deals in the top five European football leagues. Overall, over $230 million was paid annually by the industry, although the high number of deals put the average transaction value paid by the industry at $11.5 million. About a third of these deals were with crypto companies, with the average annual deal value being $8 million (according to Euromonitor International’s Sponsorship Valuation Model). The dynamics of the crypto market mean that lucrative opportunities are constantly emerging. The benefits for sports properties of signing crypto deals revolve around unlocking an untapped revenue stream, creating a catalyst for digital transformation, and the opportunity to renew fan engagement. Despite the recent surge in crypto deals, several high-profile properties in Europe remain ripe for a partnership as they are yet to sign a deal with a crypto player, including UEFA Champions League (UCL) finalists Real Madrid and Liverpool. But with this opportunity comes an abundance of volatility that can keep teams focused on building partnerships with more traditional industries, as assessed below.

Top 10 front-of-shirt sponsorship industries by total sponsorship value in the top five European football leagues, 2022

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Source: Euromonitor International

Both UCL finalists are preparing for new shirt front sponsorship deals. Real Madrid’s current deal with Emirates and Liverpool’s deal with Standard Chartered are nearing their end dates. Real Madrid’s reported annual transaction value is almost twice that of Liverpool’s, with an annual value of almost $79 million. However, this may change depending on the outcome of the UCL final. Both teams have also found success in their respective domestic leagues. Real Madrid won their 35th La Liga title in April 2022, while Liverpool are still in the hunt for another Premier League title, although Manchester City remain current favourites. Strong competitive offerings, both domestic and international, will no doubt put teams in a solid negotiating position as they seek to renew existing sponsors or attract new ones.

Digital footprint growth as a powerful driver of sponsorship value

Teams at the top of the football pyramid don’t rely solely on success on the pitch to increase their sponsorship income. Both UCL finalists, Real Madrid and Liverpool, rank in the top 10 most followed sports clubs on social media worldwide. Liverpool grew their fan base by 13% over the year to March 2022, reaching over 115 million followers across major social media platforms. At the same time, Real Madrid’s social media footprint saw a 9% increase, although the club remains a social media juggernaut with over 314 million followers. The enormous digital reach is a major factor in both teams appearing in the top 10 most commercially attractive clubs in Euromonitor International’s Club Index each year.

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Source: Euromonitor International

Social media means global reach. While monetizing social media followers remains a challenge, the global reach and exposure a sports club can garner with, for example, short videos on TikTok creates an enticing proposition for retail partners looking to increase brand awareness in key markets. Beyond social media, however, teams are increasingly exploring non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other blockchain-based technologies to drive monetization of global fans at a level unachievable on traditional social media platforms.

Unlocking the true value of women’s teams

The pandemic dampened the rapid growth of women’s football following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019. However, that is changing and in 2022 there is greater commercial value to be unlocked in women’s football. The Barcelona women’s team is preparing to battle Olympique Lyon, a record holder of seven UWCL titles, for their second consecutive UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) title. While only one team is crowned champions of the UWCL, the real winner here is women’s football in general. The 2021-22 UWCL season saw skyrocketing viewership and record live viewership. A new 16-team group stage was introduced, increasing competitiveness and interest in the matches, while centralized media coverage ensured better visibility. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions in place in certain countries, the average attendance at group stage matches has almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic numbers, according to UEFA. In addition, the knockout rounds produced games with some of the largest attendances in the history of the competition.

Record attendance in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, 2022

imagerzj4.pngSource: UEFA

Local rivalries like El Clásico drew huge live audiences and gave hope that fan interest will trickle down to domestic leagues to ensure growth is more sustainable. The real challenge will remain the concerted effort to bridge the commercial gap from high-level tournaments to national leagues and clubs.

The upcoming UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 and FIFA World Cup 2022 are expected to solidify football’s comeback and prove its commercial value after difficult years during the pandemic. These international events will position the game on the global stage, attract international audiences and provide opportunities for participants to maximize their full commercial potential.

For more insight, read our briefing Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Sponsorship Emergence and Impact in Sport.


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